George Christensen exploits our worst impulses for personal gain
George Christensen has never been one to turn down an opportunity for attention and his surprise re-election tilt for One Nation is further proof of that.
On Tuesday, the former Liberal-National Party of Queensland member for the Dawson seat told the media he was backtracking on his pledge which launched a year-long John Farnham-style retirement tour. Immediately people started wondering about the political implications. Christensen is a prominent political figure and his defection, depending on where he chooses to run, could impact the election.
Challenging Dawson could jeopardize a safe Coalition seat and test whether Dawson voters are loyal to him or the party. One Nation has already chosen a candidate for Dawson – but that could be changed. The fringe party failed to choose a candidate for the neighboring Herbert seat, leading to speculation that he might stay there.
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Running as a senator from a Queensland nation would be a difficult task – being elected third on the party ticket in a half-senate election would be nearly impossible, even for Australia’s Florida – but certainly life-giving of Pauline Hanson much more comfortable by strengthening the vote of the upper house of the party.
However, taking Christensen at face value is always misguided. There are two other reasons why he decided to run in the legislative elections without hoping to be re-elected: money and attention. And what the latest episode of “The George Show” reveals is just how much he continues to exploit our weaknesses and worst instincts for his own personal gain.
Christensen will make over $100,000 if he runs for office. Incumbent MPs who are defeated in an election or who are not supported by their party receive a taxpayer-funded “relocation allowance” equivalent to 12 weeks’ salary. Earlier this year, Christensen unsuccessfully tried to convince the LNP to disapprove of him. Showing up for One Nation, even if he loses, will guarantee he gets that six-figure payout.
His ad also guarantees more eyeballs. When the news broke this morning, I and hundreds of thousands of Australians received a push alert about the news. All major Australian news publications gave extensive coverage to the decision. Is there another government backbencher in this Parliament who has made more headlines?
This is just the latest example of Christensen abusing media weaknesses for a show. Although he’s a prolific social media user and influencer (more on that shortly), his greatest ally in seeking attention has always been the mainstream media. Example: the announcement of his re-election came first The Courier-Mail. He still hasn’t posted about his new inclination towards social media. Although he castigated the ‘mainstream’ and ‘corporate’ media, as is the convention for any conservative politician these days, they have been his best friend throughout his career – promoting his many antics and making him a household name. The media benefited in return, with clicks, comments and retweets.
What is the purpose of all this attention now? Well, attention is money in the age of social media. When he first said he was going to retire, Crikey predicted that he would try to become a professional political influencer and he did just that. After throwing plans to spread books from Amazon on social media for a sale cut when Crikey spotted this behavior, it started again. Christensen’s latest media venture is a news aggregator website, launched this week, where he sells advertising. Every eyeball he gets is a potential sale or metric to sell to potential advertisers.
(Just on its new website, a surprise wrinkle: I’m told the AEC is reviewing whether it broke election laws for political content without permission. Oops!)
The most repulsive aspect of all is how, over the past two years, Christensen has sought to take advantage of the fear, insecurity and hatred of Australians to grow his social networks in an attempt to enrich. He has amassed hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook, Telegram and his mailing list spreading fear and COVID-19 conspiracy. He undermined his own government’s attempt to vaccinate Australians to save lives. He actively courted and amplified people with some of the most damaging views in Australia. It cost us: figuratively and, in the case of the $20,000 of taxpayers’ money spent promoting its newsletter this month, literally.
Truth be told, Christensen always talked about a big game but never followed through. None of his various culture wars, anti-vaccines, or vaccine-related stunts have led to legislative change. Other Coalition members with similar, misguided views on COVID-19 and vaccinations put more skin in the game than Christensen.
Craig Kelly quit the Liberal Party because of his beliefs in the middle of a term. Christensen only resigned after his last sitting day when it didn’t matter. Senators Alex Antic and Gerard Rennick both withheld government votes on the vaccine mandate. Christensen said the mandates would force him to vote with his conscience — his conscience still happened to be aligned with the government and gave him no headache. It was a stunt, as it always is with him. Real ideological conviction would mean sacrificing something for the benefit of others, something Christensen is loath to do.
A clue hidden in plain sight as to how he views his political future is evident on his new website. Between the buttons promoting the various platforms he uses to spew bullshit, he begins his biography with three telling words: “Former Australian politician”.
Let’s hope it stays that way.